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Young Skins: Stories Paperback – March 3, 2015
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Winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award; Winner of the Guardian First Book Award; Winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature
"[Young Skins ]lives up to its laurels...exact and poetic...One sign of [Barrett's] striking maturity as a writer is that his characters stay in character...A clumsier writer might have made Arm (and other characters besides) an unconvincing juxtaposition of outward violence and inner sentimentality. Mr. Barrett makes him seamless and convincing: brutish but alive...Mr. Barrett does foundational things exceedingly wellstructure, choices of (and switches in) perspectivewithout drawing attention to them. These are stories that are likely to be taught for their form...His judgment is better than authoritative; it is imaginative and enlarging."New York Times
"Gritty...the stories often veer off in surprising narrative and stylistic directions...Barrett’s voice, though bolstered by Irish tradition, is entirely his own."New Yorker
Sharp and lively a rough, charged, and surprisingly fun read."Interview Magazine
"Sometimes comic, sometimes melancholy, Young Skins touches the heart, as well as the mind."Irish American Post
"Young Irish writer Colin Barrett’s subversive short story collection, Young Skins, may very well become my favorite book of 2015...Young Skins heralds a brilliant new age for Irish literature Barrett’s meticulously crafted narratives brim with plucky dialectical poetry so rhythmic it’ll stick in your head like a three-chord punk song. These six stories and one novella brim also with the particular pleasure of a young writer operating with confidence and a wide-open heart. Rightly so: like James Joyce’s Dubliners or Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha before him, Barrett proves that writing what you know can yield subversive and innovative results.”Bustle
"Mesmerizing...brutal, linguistically stylish tales of Sisyphean young men, voluntarily trapped within the confines of the fictional west of Ireland town of Glanbeigh."Electric Literature
The collection’s true impact comes in the gifted prose of Barrett, which flourishes in poetic and spare scenes; he is an assured, powerful new literary voice.”Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)
"Justly acclaimed for his lyrical, deadpan style by some of the giants of contemporary Irish literature, including Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín, Barrett offers an extraordinary debut that heralds a brutal yet alluring new voice in contemporary fiction."Library Journal (starred review)
"Barrett knows the woods and roads surrounding Glanbeigh as well as he understands the youth who roam them. This is his territory, his people. He writes with beauty and a toughness that captures the essence of boredom and angst. Barrett has given us moments that resonate true to a culture, a population and a geography that is fertile with the stuff of good fiction."Kirkus
"Sharp, edgy, heartrendingly provocative. Colin Barrett is a distinctive, exciting new voice out of Ireland."David Means, author of Assorted Fire Events
"Young Skins knocked me on my ass. It's moody, funny, vibrant and vivid. It's beautifully compressed and unafraid to take a bruising or lyrical leap. Colin Barrett has, as they say, talent to burn, but I really hope he doesn't waste a drop."Sam Lipsyte
"Colin Barrett, like all great storytellers, has the ability to weave a broader chronicle of Ireland out of stories that remain intimate, powerful and regional. Out of the local, the universal appears. He defines the many shades of the present time and suggests a compelling future. He is a writer to savour and look out for."Colum McCann
"Exciting and stylistically adventurous."Colm Toibín
"Many fiction writers are attracted to non-existent but identifiable settings. Thomas Hardy created Wessex, Robert Musil transformed Austria-Hungary into Kakania, and in Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner literally mapped his Yoknapatawpha county. At once Lafayette, Mississippi, and not Lafayette, Mississippi, Yoknapatawpha offered readers a familiar setting without the danger of their imaginations snagging on the join between reality and fiction. Colin Barrett confidently secures this same blend of familiarity and freedom with the first line of his debut short-story collection...his stories invite second readings that...seem to uncover sentences that weren't there the first time around. Chekhov once told his publisher that it isn't the business of a writer to answer questions, only to formulate them correctly. Throughout this extraordinary debut, but particularly in the excellent stories that bookend it, Colin Barrett is asking the right questions."The Guardian (UK)
"Colin Barrett's sentences are lyrical and tough and smart, but there is something more here that makes him a really good writer. His stories are set in a familiar emotional landscape, but they give us endings that are new. What seems to be about sorrow and foreboding turns into an adventure, instead, in the tender art of the unexpected."Anne Enright
"Language, structure, style - Colin Barrett has all the weapons at his disposal, and how, and he has an intuitive sense for what a short story is, and what it can do."Kevin Barry
A writer to watch out for.”Guernica
"How dare a debut writer be this good? Young Skins has all the hallmarks of an instant classic. Barrett's prose is exquisite but never rarefied. His characters - the damaged, the tender-hearted and the reckless - are driven by utterly human experiences of longing. His stories are a thump to the heart, a mainline surge to the core. His vision is sharp, his wit is sly, and the stories in this collection come alive with that ineffable thing - soul."Alison MacLeod (judge of the 2014 Frank O'Connor Award)
A stunning debut The timeless nature of each story means this collection can and will be read many years from now.”The Sunday Times
A writer of extraordinary gifts. I loved this compelling and utterly persuasive collection, the strongest debut I’ve read in some years.”Joseph O’Connor
"Incredible. Human violence, beauty, brilliance of language - this book reminds you of the massive things you can do in short fiction."Evie Wyld
"A new fabulous and forensic voice to sing out Ireland's woes."Bernard MacLaverty
Barrett simply outwrites many of his peers with a chilling confidence that suggests there is far more beneath the surface than merely the viciously effective black humour.”The Irish Times, Fiction of the Year
A sustained and brilliant performance by a young writer of remarkable talent and confirmation that Colin is a writer of significance with something important to say... [It] is Colin’s mastery of characterisation and his seemingly endless ability to surprise us with the poetry and linguistic inventiveness of his prose that elevates these stories into deftly crafted works of art that are a pleasure to read from start to finish.”Short Story Ireland
Raw and affecting Barrett's use of language is powerful and surprising These stories are moving and memorable and show a writer who understands people, place and the effects of porter on the human psyche.”Irish Independent
It isn’t necessarily the job of fiction writers to explain our social landscape, but sometimes the best of them do. Colin Barrett’s short, brutal collection of stories presents clearly and without sentimentality a picture of the young Irish small-town male, in his current crisis of hopelessness and alienation.”The Irish Times
Superbly observed Every sentence counts in these mesmerizing stories from an exciting literary author.”Irish Examiner
"Colin Barrett is a young man in the town of the short story, but it's fair to say he has the run of the place. This is a joyously fine collection, crackling with energy and verve, fit for the back pocket of anyone who loves a good story well told."Jon McGregor
"Should you be surprised that yet another superbly articulate and word-drunk writer has come out of Ireland? Perhaps not; but when that writer's work is as moving, as funny, as spectacularly evocative as Young Skins, you should be astonished, and amazed, and grateful. Some of the stories in this debut collection are amongst the best in the language. That a young writer possesses a talent this great is a cause for celebration, matched only by his ability to control and harness it. A minute after finishing this book I was itching to read Colin Barrett's next."Niall Griffiths
About the Author
Colin Barrett was born in 1982 and grew up in County Mayo, Ireland. In 2009 he was awarded the Penguin Ireland Prize. His stories have appeared in Stinging Fly magazine, A Public Space, Five Dials, and the New Yorker. This is his first book. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Note: the Colin Barrett who authored this book is Irish; not to be confused with an American author of the same name who has self-published a few books.
In the story "Diamonds," a man and woman in their thirties realize that they may have unknowingly crossed paths in their teenage years. "But you were there and I was there," the woman says, "In our young skins, though we didn't know each other from Adam. Strange to think of it." But in fact these people still don't "know each other from Adam"; they're two lonely alcoholics who met a few hours ago at an AA meeting and are now sharing a bottle and a one night stand. This melancholy scene, with that lovely phrase, "in our young skins," is typical of the writing in this beautiful debut collection of short stories.
The setting for all these stories is small-town Ireland, and the characters are for the most part working class young men who spend a lot of time in pubs, who swear a lot, who have a history of failed relationships, and who yearn for something deeper in their lives. The plots are rather minimalist, and the characters are drawn slowly and carefully, with spare dialog and little overt introspection. But the great pleasure in this book is in the writing, which is rich and beautifully crafted. Barrett has an excellent writing "voice," with a flair for graceful sentences and colorful description. His dialog is lyrical in spite of its spareness and earthy realism (and is also thick with Irish slang -- American readers may want to refer to Urban Dictionary or some similar website from time to time).
There are seven stories in this collection, and while all of them are excellent, I'd say that the highlight of the book is the longest story (at 70 pages), "Calm With Horses." Like its companions, this piece is largely a slice-of-life character portrait, in this case a portrait of an ex-boxer who now works as a bodyguard and enforcer for a small-time marijuana dealer. The character is by turns sensitive and brutal, but Barrett's writing makes him utterly believable and compelling. As the story veers into darkness and chilling violence it pulls the reader along with an irresistible force, arriving finally at an ending that's unexpectedly tender and mournful.
Perhaps my second-place favorite story was "Kindly Forget My Existence," in which two middle-aged men who were friends in their youth accidentally meet in an otherwise deserted pub. They're supposed to be attending the funeral of a woman they both once loved, but out of self-described "cravenness" have crept away to the pub instead. In its understated dignity and its open question-mark of an ending, I found the story reminiscent of Hemingway at his best.
Ireland has one of the richest traditions of short story writers of any nation in the world, and with this collection Collin Barrett is taking his place in that tradition.
“The Clancy Kid,” which establishes the tone and the themes for the entire collection, opens in a pub, where the speaker, Jimmy Devereux is sitting with his friend Tug, whose real name is Brendan. “Brendan” was the name of Tug’s older brother who died as a thirteen-month-old toddler, and Tug “was bred in a family warped by grief, and was himself a manner of ghosteen,” never able to shed the vision in the cemetery of “the lonely blue slab with his own name etched upon it in fissured gilt.” Within brief descriptions, the author conveys important themes and ideas and sets up the conflict that will erupt in the story, though the author lets the story unfold in surprising ways that change the focus from exterior plot to a study of character.
This perfect introduction shows the first of many characters dealing (or not dealing) with their lives and their environment. Most are, by nature, limited in their abilities to handle problems. “Bait,” the second story, shows two more characters, the protective and thoughtful Teddy and his cousin Matteen. As in the case of Jimmy and Tug, one character, Teddy, is the “minder” of the other, less thoughtful one. Here, however, the characters’ roles change, moving in ironic directions. Though Matteen has a real skill as a pool hustler and is able to earn money, the girls they meet have devious plans of their own. “The Moon,” a story about Val, a bouncer, and his right-hand man Boris, shows them also coming under the spell of women who have more insights into the world than they do.
Fate and the accidents which occur as a result of a character’s choices, misjudgments, or lack of insight create unexpected twists in the story lines, often leading the reader to feel sympathetic to these characters even when they bring on their own disasters. “Calm with Horses,” the ninety-page novella, has two main characters, Dympna and Arm, both minor dealers in marijuana, who, like the other characters live on the edge, physically and emotionally. Here an act of fate – or miscommunication –leads to disaster and horrific violence. The final story, about two men trying to decide whether to attend the funeral of a woman they both loved provides an appropriate ending and vision of hope. Straddling the line between comedy and tragedy, Barrett creates consummately Irish characters and crises, bringing the whole collection alive.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Gritty, sometimes bleak, but full of well-developed characters and emotions, the stories in Colin Barrett's collection Young Skins are...Read more